MoscowThere’s no reason to be afraid. The growl of the Russian bear is worse than its bite. Forget the new generation of ballistic missiles that can punch a gaping hole in Washington’s defensive shield before it’s even been built. Ignore all those creaking Tupolev-95 Bear nuclear bombers testing the response times of the RAF’s Typhoon interceptors over the North Sea. And fret not about plucky little Putin’s heroic foray into darkest Persia, where he defied an assassination plot so that he could scheme with that crafty Iranian apocalyptist, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
When their TV screens suddenly went fuzzy on Saturday afternoon, most Pakistanis felt they had seen it all before. Their country has, after all, spent 33 of its 60 years under military rule. The troops surrounding the TV and radio stations, the phone networks down, the round-up of opponents, the concertina wire across Constitution Avenue blocking off the Presidency, Parliament and Supreme Court .
It is a measure of James Michie’s extreme modesty that most of the younger people who bumped into him in the offices of The Spectator probably hadn’t the foggiest idea who he really was. They might see him reading in the afternoon, sitting with a glass of wine and a half-smile, in the room that led out to the garden. They might have met him on the stair, bearing a sheaf of scrupulously emended proofs.
Coming to a music store near you: Santo Subito!, the first ever papal music DVD. Featuring the late John Paul II, it is to be launched in Britain by Universal — better known for Amy Winehouse and the Sugababes — on 19 November. By Christmas, if the prayers of the PR people are answered, it will be a worldwide number one hit.Santo Subito! (‘sainthood immediately!’) is what crowds outside the Vatican traditionally chant when they want someone canonised without delay.
The lights blazed out across St James’s Square from the high, first-floor Reading Room of the London Library as members crowded up the handsome staircase, last Thursday evening, to take part in the fiercest row the library has seen for many years, or maybe ever. Some members had to squeeze on to narrow upper galleries, where you search out dusty dictionaries in obscure languages. From there, they intervened in the to-and-fro of hot argument down below, like shabby cherubs in a Raphael painting.
Tom DeLay has a slightly deflated air about him in the London club in which we meet. It might be the financial accusations and personal attacks made on him for 11 years before his indictment and consequent stand-down from Congress last year. ‘I was pretty much burnt out, exhausted,’ he admits. Or it could be the inevitable attitude of a former Republican majority leader observing Washington once more in the grip of the Democratic party — he is over here to speak at the Oxford Union, opposing the motion ‘This house looks forward to seeing a Democrat in the White House’ in a debate with the Rev’d Al Sharpton.
A policeman once told me, over lunch in the House of Commons canteen just off Westminster Hall, that the problem of immigration would be sorted for good and for all, very soon. ‘The chill north wind, from Odin’s Land, will exterminate the scum we have brought to our shores,’ he said, equably enough, and then went and queued up for some pudding behind Michael Meacher. I was left to muse upon his words.
PekingIn Peking, I took Elle Macpherson to dinner at the ridiculous Lan Club — ridiculous because it is entered from the fluorescent lobby of a nondescript office block, and its owner, a very rich Chinese woman, had spent US$23 million on it — paying Philippe Starck for his signature designs. It is also ridiculous because the massive space is so ostentatiously and extravagantly decked out that it jars in communist China.